"My Life" by Martin Bakker (Part 10)

6 mins read

Editor’s note:  All images featured in this chapter are taken from historical sources.

(Continued from Part 9)

Going to America

During this time in Amsterdam, the deaconate of the church drew me into the work of visiting the people in the slums. We worked during the day at our trade in the print shop to provide for my family, so this slum work had to be done by night. It so happened I was to go out with a deacon who was born and raised himself in that slum district and new every little alley in the neighborhood. Some alleys were so narrow, a handcart could hardly pass you and you would have to press against the wall or lean
against a door. But in these alleys were people living that once upon a time belonged to the State Church and we had to find and visit them and try to get them back to attend service. It was not easily done. These alleys were so dark at night you could not see where you were stepping and many times it was not always clay that stuck to your shoes.

Sometimes people were decent and even appreciative that we called and we had a measure of success. At one evening we climbed up to the 3
rd story to a narrow stairway. There was no light. The steps were worn down in the form of two half-moons and a rope hanging down served as railing. When we finally got there, we found a man lying down on a cot with nothing but a few empty sacks as bedding to sick even to talk. After we had told this man our mission the deacon offered a word of prayer, we shook hands and left. My partner made a note to have someone call the following day to help the sick poor man to ease his lot.

At another time we called at a place and when we made known what our purpose was, we were told with a curse if we did not disappear in a hurry he would throw us down the steps. We were still in that period of the Reformed Church when there was a much hatred toward the seceders but slowly on later years it got better when they noticed the sincerity of these Christians. Much of this hatred was also on account of ignorance.

While we lived in Amsterdam we got two more children, a girl and a boy. We were indeed very glad and thankful the Lord made things well. But with this increase in the family at was hard to sufficiently provide for their needs. At that time I was not always satisfied and content. On one occasion I said to my wife, “It is a shame a man cannot earn enough for his family as they can have good food and decent clothes.” My wife said later to me, “I prayed for you the Lord might take out of your heart that rebellious spirit.” She also prayed to receive wisdom and understanding to use my earnings so wisely that it could not be done better. I truly believe the Lord answered both petitions. How wonderful the Lord will use us to intercede for one another before His throne of Grace. He ever intercedes for us with the Father.

It was at this time that we received some money of the British government to compensate us for the loss we suffered on account of our deportation 2 ½ years ago. After due consideration and prayers we decided to start a meat business. With the help of my wife’s brother who was in that kind of business and had done nothing else all his life and also with my wife’s knowledge of it we thought it would be a good thing to do. It went good for a time and we thought we could make a real success of it but through different setbacks resulting from unfavorable changes in meat prices etc., after about three years we thought we ought to do something else. There were other reasons also why we had to do something. We got two more children and the house we lived in was really too small. In order to provide for the family we had to expand and we could not build and there was no suitable place for rent. Furthermore there is the fact that we had lived in Africa where things were more plentiful and where everybody was common and no conventions unlike in Holland. In the fall of 1906 one of our friends from S. Africa visited us and said he was going to leave for America, it at once appealed to us and we were immediately inclined to go ourselves.

This friend of ours went with two other boys belonging to the young men’s society of which I used to be a member also, with the Boers to the front. All these were taken prisoner during the battle of Elandslaagte. They were sent to St. Helena and remained there until the Boer War was over. Later he came to the Netherlands and after a while returned to Transvaal. He did not like it there then as well as before the war and came back to Holland to live until he visited us and left for America. We had a very enjoyable afternoon and evening together and talked about the United States and what we would do there. We were both printers by trade but we thought we were willing to do anything. The upshot of it all was that he was to write us how it looked to him in the New World and how the outlook was for printers and for us to go there as a family. Often we said goodbye to us and we wished him Godspeed and success.

Thinking it Over Seriously

It did not take very many weeks after he arrived in the U.S. and we received a letter from him. He wrote us that things looked very favorable to him. He had found work almost immediately in a Western Michigan city known for its fine furniture and excellent printing. He was convinced I would also readily find a job there and during the winter there was always much going on in the printing industry.

In the meantime, the Lord rules and determines the place of our habitation. We had contacted people that we met at church and always traded with us in the store. They had relations in the U.S. who lived in the same town and our friend, who was employed there as a printer. They had written them that they prospered there and that everything was so much easier to get than in the Netherlands and that living accommodations, etc. in general were very good.

At first my wife did not want to go to America because for years back the saying was if anyone went over there he must have murdered someone or stolen or done some immoral deed or whatever else it might be that caused him to leave his own good country. After we heard of these good Christian friends relatives such favorable reports, also in regard to church life that gave an entirely different picture and it changed her mind entirely and she then was anxious to go. Then we decided to tell the relative about our plans. They were not all so very much surprised that we wanted to leave, for we always had been talking of Africa and of late also America. My wife’s oldest sister said, “You old roamers, you go all over the world and now we will never see you again.”

We Prepare to Go Across

Although we were still young, we realized it was a little harder to leave now to go to America than when we went to Africa. I had become better acquainted with my wife’s relatives and now I looked at life through different eyes than when I left for Africa. Now we were married and had five children. The Lord had caused us to see ourselves by the light of His Word and through the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment I realized our dependence upon the Lord. Besides we had made friends, Christian people who had become dear unto us. But we thought about the present and the future of our children and the necessity to provide for the family. Finally we decided to go to the same place of our friend in Michigan.

We had to do a lot of packing for ourselves and for the children. Then we had an auction of our furniture and whatever else we could not very well take along. The auction turned out very favorably and we got rid of everything.

It was the 2
nd of February a time of the year not so very good for travel, especially not with little ones. We later on regretted we did not wait a few months. But we did not know what we would encounter during the trip. After all we rested in the providence of our Heavenly Father. We took our leave of the brothers and the sisters, father and mothers and their children. We were all moved and some of us had tears in our eyes. We all felt more or less the seriousness of the step we took but we were of good courage trusting in the Lord and they all wished us God’s blessing and guidance and promised their prayers would accompany us.

(Continue to Part 11)

Raised in a home filled with books on Western civilization, P.G. Mantel became a lover of history at an early age. An amateur writer of verse, he makes himself useful as an editor for Men of the West.

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